The FWC and Ocklawaha River Restoration

The FWC and Ocklawaha River Restoration

 

Will the Striped Bass of the St. Johns River Basin

Be Given the Opportunity to Naturally Reproduce Once Again?

 

 

An Information, Opinion, & Sources Report
Compiled by Ocklawahaman Paul Nosca
Revised:  24 October 2013

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

  

Largemouth bass exist and naturally reproduce in all of Florida's 67 counties. In almost all of this state (except where maybe it's too salty) you can dig a pond on your own property (if permitted and of suitable depth/size) that stocked largemouth bass will probably be able to successfully spawn and survive in. There is nothing unique about finding native largemouth bass in Florida. Trophy largemouth bass (10-lbs and over) are caught from time to time statewide.

 

Striped bass, however, have a completely different life history. Back in 1961 fishery biologists determined that only two waterway systems in Florida--the Apalachicola River (the Chipola River is its only long-length, spring-fed, swift-flowing tributary stream) and the St. Johns River (the Ocklawaha River is its only long-length, spring-fed, swift-flowing tributary stream)--contained naturally reproducing stocks of native striped bass.

http://aquaticcommons.org/306/1/UF00076823.pdf 

 

Stripers in Florida are riverine fish which require about 50 miles of cool, free and swift-flowing large streams for successful spawning. Adult striped bass, which can weigh beyond 30 lbs, also require close-by access to aquatic refuge zones with summertime water temperatures no greater than 80 F (such as artesian springs and canopied tributary streams). Rodman Dam reduced the spring-fed, swift-flowing Ocklawaha River upstream from the tidal St. Johns River estuary to a length unsuitable for striper spawning. Since 1970 the St. Johns River basin has been stocked with hatchery produced striped bass. No other tributary streams of the St. Johns River meet the stripers' strict spawning requirements.

 

 

The following excerpted paragraphs are from the 07 June 2012 final report entitled "Rodman Reservoir Historical Perspective" by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC):

"Dr. O.E. Frye, former Executive Director of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC), wrote a letter on March 31, 1971 to then Governor Reubin Askew stating the GFC’s position regarding the Reservoir.  Dr. Frye stated that 'The Rodman Pool should be drained to restore the Ocklawaha River flood plain to its original scenic qualities.  While it is tempting to retain a reservoir that has produced good fishing in its three years of existence, we feel obligated to evaluate it in terms of its ecological impact over a period of more than its short lifespan.'  Dr. Frye’s justifications for this position included the proliferation of aquatic macrophytes, cost of removing floating trees for many years, saving trees currently inundated, removing the barrier that prevented annual striped bass migration, and relieving the tax burden created by the Reservoir as opposed to a near tax-free restored river.  Subsequent letters in 1990 and 2001 from Brad Hartman, GFC and FWC Director of Environmental Services, expressed support for partially restoring the Ocklawaha River."

 

"On January 21, 1994, the Florida DEP applied for and was granted a 5-year Special Use Permit by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for the occupancy of approximately 600 acres within the Ocala National Forest that included portions of the Kirkpatrick Dam and the Reservoir.  The permit stipulated that upon expiration, DEP would remove all structures within a reasonable time.  If DEP failed to remove the structures, they would become the property of the United States.

 

"The USFS permit allowing occupancy of federal lands expired on December 31, 1999, but was extended twice allowing for additional time to apply for a new occupancy agreement describing management intentions.  On May 30, 2002, the USFS prepared a special use permit for DEP’s signature which would allow DEP to continue to occupy USFS lands.  This permit would require DEP to agree to a mandatory restoration schedule ensuring that the restoration would be completed by June 30, 2006.  DEP determined that they would be unable to satisfy conditions required by the USFS due to funding and permitting issues, and declined to sign the special use permit.

 

"The USFS prepared a special use permit in March 2010 once again for DEP’s signature, which would allow DEP to continue to occupy USFS lands.  This permit required that DEP develop a final operating plan for the restoration of the Ocklawaha River within 12 months.  DEP determined that they would be unable to satisfy the conditions required by the USFS due to funding and permitting issues, and again declined to sign the special use permit."

 

"2) Striped bass – Florida is the southern-most natural location for striped bass in North America.  The St. Johns River and its tributaries are the only locations where the Atlantic strain occurs in Florida, and historically never produced large population numbers.  Striped bass population data from the 1980’s through the 2000’s strongly suggests that no natural reproduction is occurring in the St. Johns River.  The federal hatchery in Welaka, Florida currently attempts to stock striped bass annually.  Following the three years that striped bass were not stocked, no representatives of those missing year classes were observed.  These stocked striped bass have been documented from the middle reaches of the St. Johns River near Lake Monroe all the way to the Nassau River. 

 

"The prevailing thought before construction of the Kirkpatrick Dam was that striped bass spawning would be disrupted and their upstream passage in the Ocklawaha River would be impeded.   While no definitive proof exists that the Kirkpatrick Dam prevented striped bass from naturally spawning, limited movement of striped bass through the Buckman Locks has been documented."

 

"March 16, 1990 – GFC Director of Environmental Services sent an internal letter expressing support for restoring the Ocklawaha River"

 

"March 28, 1996 – Letter from GFC Director of Environmental Services to the Florida State Clearinghouse Department of Community Affairs stated that GFC supported the Partial Restoration alternative"

 

"June 13, 2001 – Letter from FWC Director of Environmental Services to the Florida State Clearinghouse Department of Community Affairs stated that FWC supported the Partial Restoration alternative"

 

 

NOTE:

The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (GFC) was the predecessor agency

to the current Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

 

 

This entire FWC report (6,730 KB) was available at:

http://www.fws.gov/filedownloads/ftp_JacksonvilleFO/Ocklawaha%20-%20Rodman/2012%20Earth%20Justice/FWC%202012%20Final%20Report%20Rodman%20Reservoir%20Historical%20Perspective%20v6-7-12.doc (last accessed on 19 September 2012).

A 195 KB shortened version of the document is available for your viewing at the bottom of this webpage.

 

 

OPINION

 

Although there seems to be an effort by some (for whatever reason) to downplay the historical significance of the naturally reproducing striped bass fishery that existed in the Ocklawaha River before Rodman Dam was completed on 30 September 1968, there are several different online archived newspaper reports available that describe the exciting fishing action that occurred in the past involving native stripers weighing up to 30 pounds.

 

The following is an excerpted paragraph from the "Outdoors by Fred Langworthy" report that appeared in the Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal newspaper (28 August 1955, page 14):

"Reports received here say that the party, fishing for black bass, hit into rather hefty strikes that tore up tackle. Later, and with heavier gear, they returned to the river and boated some of the fish, finding that they were real northern striped bass, a salt water fish. From then on anglers from all around hurried to the river, and at last report were hauling in scores of them weighing from 14 to 30 pounds."

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=kYUfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qswEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1651,3848661&dq=striped-bass+oklawaha-river&hl=en

 

 

The St. Johns River Basin historically supported the most southern native and naturally reproducing population of striped bass in the United States. Available fisheries research documents, from many credible sources, suggest that striped bass require about 50 miles of swift-flowing stream current (of at least 0.68 mph) for their fertilized eggs and larvae to be suspended-in for approximately 48 hours to avoid suffocating in bottom mud. The striper's strict reproductive requirement would identify the pre-Rodman impounded Ocklawaha River--which was 56 free-flowing stream miles of swift current from Silver Springs to the St. Johns--as probably being the only striped bass successful natural spawning habitat of the entire St. Johns River Basin.

 

The extremely low stream gradient (about 1/10th of the Ocklawaha's), with its resulting sluggish current, of the St. Johns River itself precludes the larger river from being suitable for the striper's reproductive needs. Lake Washington, near Melbourne, is 260 miles upriver from the mouth but less than 20 feet elevation above sea level--lower than Rodman Reservoir much of the time. There are not enough stream miles or stream-flow velocity and volume to allow striped bass natural reproduction in any of the other major tributaries of the St. Johns River.

 

Since 1970, striper replacement stocks in the St. Johns Basin have been hatchery raised and stocked by man. Successful natural reproduction seems to have ceased with the advent of Rodman (Kirkpatrick) Dam.

 

 

Excerpted paragraphs from the "Fishes of the Ocklawaha River, Florida" 2002 report by James P. Clugston (1972-1973 Southern Division President of the American Fisheries Society):
"The table of native fishes in the Ocklawaha River system provided by Continental Shelf Associates, Inc (1994) indicates that striped bass rarely were caught in the river and reservoir. However, there is little doubt that they were seasonally common in the unaltered river system. McLane (1955) reported striped bass presence in the Ocklawaha River upstream to the Moss Bluff Dam. Barkuloo (1962) described large numbers in Silver Springs during the summer. About 400 were counted by SCUBA divers from the spring to a point 4.5 miles downstream in Silver River. They were an important attraction to tourists riding glass-bottom boats at the spring. The junction of Silver River and the Ocklawaha River was a popular fishing location for striped bass at that time. More recently, Jordan (1994a) failed to collect striped bass between January and June, 1994, in the reservoir and river, but he did collect them from the barge canal downstream of the lock. However, probably every Spring to date since the completion of the dam, local newspapers have reported excellent striped bass fishing in the Ocklawaha River at the base of Rodman Dam. The presence of striped bass carcasses in the reservoir during two fish kills in the late 1980's indicate that some passed into the reservoir via the lock (Florida Department of Environmental Protection 1997). None were seen in a September 2000 fish kill (R. W. Hujik, FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, personal communication). Striped bass are no longer seen by tourists riding glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs. There is no doubt that the Rodman Dam stops upstream migration of striped bass in the Ocklawaha River."
 
"Although some striped bass still pass into the reservoir through the lock, numbers are greatly reduced as evident by their absence at Silver Springs and the most recent fish kill, and the large numbers stopped at the dam and caught there by fishermen every Spring. More important, the Ocklawaha River is one of the few tributaries of the St. Johns River that met spawning habitat requirements of striped bass. Construction of the reservoir reduced the length of this free-flowing river to a size no longer suitable for striped bass spawning."

 

 

NOTE:  The endemic striped bass of the pre-Rodman-era Ocklawaha and St. Johns Rivers presumably spent a portion of the year within the safe refuge of the 5-mile long Silver River. Silver River has been closed to all fishing by state law since 1929. http://archive.flsenate.gov/data/session/2002/Senate/bills/analysis/pdf/2002s0680.nr.pdf

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The stated mission of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is "Managing fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being and the benefit of people." It would seem that attempting to restore a natural breeding population of Atlantic-race striped bass to their historic Ocklawaha River spawning habitat would be a worthy goal for the FWC to actively pursue. Wouldn’t the "long-term well-being" of a desirable Florida-native gamefish species with a very limited range in this state--the Atlantic-race striped bass--be better advanced by making its very existence in the St. Johns River Basin not only completely dependent upon the work of fish hatcheries?

 

 

 

LATEST FROM THE FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COMMISSION OFFICIAL WEBSITE:

http://myfwc.com/fishing/freshwater/black-bass/first-year-updates/rodman/

(last accessed 24 October 2013).

 

For much more Ocklawaha River STRIPER information, including links to other archived newspaper accounts and fishery reports,

visit the "Striped Bass of the Ocklawaha River, Florida" webpage at:
https://sites.google.com/site/ocklawahaman/striped-bass-of-the-ocklawaha-river

 

 

 

 

REFERENCE AS:  Nosca, P. 2013. "The FWC and Ocklawaha River Restoration" webpage report. "Ocklawahaman" website. Paul Nosca, Eureka, FL.
https://sites.google.com/site/ocklawahaman/the-fwc-and-ocklawaha-river-restoration

 

 

Email: ocklawahaman1@gmail.com

 

End.

 

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Paul Nosca,
Nov 1, 2012, 7:32 AM
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Paul Nosca,
Nov 17, 2012, 7:46 AM
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